F&L: The Wisconsin Primary

It’s been in the news by now, so you may fancy you already know all about it — and, given the quality of my readership, you may even be right.

However, I’m not writing this entirely for the present day, but rather as a running account of what will doubtless be known as the “COVID Primary” for future readers.  Then too, there may be something in here of which you may as yet be unaware.  In light of these factors, then, I beg your indulgence for the forthcoming account.

Today is the 7th of April, and most of the country knows it as Primary Day in Wisconsin.  This isn’t entirely correct; state and local offices faced their primary on the 18th of February.  The Presidential primary is today, but it’s held concurrently with the spring elections.  This is an important fact; remember it for later.

When the scope of the present Coronavirus epidemic started to become evident to the general public, the political leaders in Wisconsin met to discuss alternative primary arrangements.  The consensus decision at the time (back in February) was that the election should go forward as planned, but that an increased push for mail-in ballots was to be made, and that certain precautions ought to be taken.  This was ordered, and the decision was sent out to the general public — so far so good.

Fast forward to Monday the 24th of March:  Milwaukee mayor Tom Barrett wrote an open letter to Governor Evers, the Senate majority leader, and the Speaker of the state House.  In it he requested prompt action to delay the election given the governor’s stay-at-home order announced the day before.  He then took several steps to restrict city polling locations, confident that the state government would back his decision.

But the legislature was opposed, stating that the changes were already agreed upon, and that this close to voting day it would cause confusion and even damage to change the voting day, as the governor had suggested.  They’ve been advocating loudly for citizens to file absentee ballots for weeks, and they believe last-minute changes would undermine the process, making vote tampering not only tempting but easily accomplished.  Considering Wisconsin’s long history of extreme partisanship, this isn’t as outlandish as it may seem; credible (though largely debunked) accusations of vote tampering were made as lately as the 2016 presidential race, and there have been several investigations by citizen’s groups already this season.

(Bear in mind:  I’m not saying these are well-founded investigations, merely that they’re popular among state voters.  As such, the legislature is arguably compelled to acknowledge them and act appropriately.)

This was two weeks ago, and since then the governor has not been as idle as it appears to outsiders.  After long hesitation and waffling — for good reason, as this would have extended some thousands of local and municipal terms of office by order rather than vote, creating an extremely dangerous precedent — he ultimately pushed back against the legislature’s refusal, went to the state elections board, and made his case in the press.  He then announced a plan to extend the postmark dates on absentee ballots; the legislature declined and the courts upheld them.  Finally, this past weekend he issued an eleventh-hour executive order to delay the election; courts including state, district, and both state and federal Supreme Courts agree that, as this is an election rather than a simple primary, he doesn’t have the authority to do this.

There’s been some dissent among jurists, but the high courts have decided — with public dissent, and along traditional party lines.  Note this last; the deciding judges have sent unsigned decisions, which is standard — but dissents have been signed by opposing judges, who are loudly trumpeting partisanship in the face of its all-too-evident failure.

The law is clear:  Because this isn’t merely a primary but an actual election, this decision is the legislature’s to make, and they’ve made it.  The governor’s actions were well-intentioned, but in the end all he’s accomplished by them is sowing confusion and further partisan division.  Having said that, I personally believe the legislature made the wrong choice, and that permitting in-person voting is horribly irresponsible.  So too is Mayor Barrett’s action to close most of the polling stations in Milwaukee, and similar decisions in Green Bay and Waukesha.

My own conclusion here is that, when the post-Convention riots begin, every lawmaker in the state should justifiably flee in terror of the guillotining they’ve all richly earned — including the governor, the board of elections, the mayors, most legislators, and even a few judges.

(Editor’s Note:  The Not Fake News does not endorse the public execution of government officials.  The foregoing paragraph is intended as poetic language, and not a license to kill.  The Not Fake News has no authority to issue execution orders, which is probably a good thing.


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